MGWCC #477

crossword 3:30ish (across lite) 
meta 5 minutes 


hello and welcome to episode #477 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “25”. for this week 3 puzzle, we were looking for a famous song lyric. it’s a very unusual grid, with a very high word count (84), a ton of black squares, and lots of 3-letter words. what are the theme answers? there aren’t any obviously indicated, but the two longest answers in the puzzle are symmetrical 9s:

  • {She played Alice} ANN B. DAVIS, the housekeeper from the brady bunch.
  • {1960s-70s-80s game show fixture known for his one-liners} PAUL LYNDE, of hollywood squares.

what do these two have in common? they both occupy the “center square”:

(the brady bunch pic is an example of the not you meme stolen from projectyl, aka mike sylvia, on twitter. by a curious coincidence, florence henderson is in both of these pictures, above ANN B. DAVIS and to the left of PAUL LYNDE, but that has nothing to do with the meta.)

speaking of the meta! i worked with andy kravis on this, and it fell quickly. we both noticed the center square thing, and andy pointed out that the puzzle title 25 is 5×5, and you can easily partition a 15×15 crossword grid into smaller squares. andy first suggested nine 5×5 squares, with 25 squares in each subsection, but reading off the center square yields garbage (PY.SE NAG.S .OMG. S.OAK ES.BI, if you must know). i then had the idea of just doing 25 3×3 squares instead, and reading off the center letter of each. doing so yields I’M STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU, a very fitting answer for this meta mechanism.

i’d offer that “(here) i am, stuck in the middle with you” is a distinctly more famous song lyric, but he does sing “(yes) i’m stuck in the middle with you” a couple times in the song. still, maybe it would have been better to just have the 23-letter answer “stuck in the middle with you” by using a couple of symmetrically placed black squares among the 25. of course, then you might need a different title.

i’m sure i’m not the only one who only knows this song from a very disturbing scene from reservoir dogs. (seriously, don’t click that link. or if you do, don’t say you weren’t warned.)

the grid, as i mentioned, is weird and highly strained. it is much harder to put 25 theme squares scattered all over the grid than it is to put in that much theme material neatly confined to two or three long answers. it’s a pretty cool meta, though, so i won’t harp on the grid too much.

that’s all i’ve got. how’d you like this one?

This entry was posted in Contests and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to MGWCC #477

  1. Matthew G. says:

    Wow. I made the center-square connection between Davis and Lynde, and tried boxing off various parts of the grid, but it never occurred to me to draw boxes that included black squares. A failure of lateral thinking on my part.

  2. sharkicicles says:

    Brilliant. I got the CENTER SQUARE clue right away, but couldn’t split the grid up well enough to get the actual answer, just garbage. Didn’t think of including the black squares as well…

  3. Joe says:

    Ah man there goes our 11-week streak. We got the middle square thing but just couldn’t make heads of tails of that central 5×5 section, which gives garbage, as you pointed out. Never would have considered breaking the entire puzzle up into tiny 3×3 sections, but that explains entries such as Doofi and Isnti and things like that. I even tried the middle letters of the nine 5×5 squares to see if that spelled anything.

    • Dan Seidman says:

      DOOFI is there (to the left of ANNBDAVIS) for a different reason. That and FOOLS to the right of PAULLYNDE illustrate the other well-known lyric in this song, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”.

      • Garrett says:


      • Lance says:

        Oh, I missed that completely; that makes the construction even lovelier (even if DOOFI is a little questionable as an entry).

      • Abby Braunsdorf says:

        I included that in my answer because it had to be deliberate but was nervous about doing so (since it wasn’t in the grid like the rest). Looks like it counted.

      • joon says:

        ha! that’s fantastic. i thought about looking to the left and right of the 25 center squares for clowns and jokers, but didn’t think about DOOFI or FOOLS.

  4. Flinty Steve says:

    Wow – I got this one right, but I sure missed a lot and did not feel good about submitting my answer. I went solely off the fact that there are clowns (DOOFI) to the left of Ann B. Davis and jokers (FOOLS) to the right of Paul Lynde. Oh – and you can read I AM backwards diagonally from the SE to the middle of the puzzle (it’s stuck in the middle with YAO). Oh – plus “U” is the 25th letter in the puzzle. In retrospect, it’s a very impressive construction (that I just couldn’t see . . .).

    • Paul Coulter says:

      The clowns to the left and the jokers to the right made it hard for me to decide if Matt wanted the whole line, or just the part spelled out in the 3×3 squares.
      That said, I loved the meta – Matt’s on a Mullerian roll with another great song from the day.
      But first, the title convinced me the implied “center square” must involve numeric squares. I spent much too long trying to make sense of the central letters for entries at 1,4,9, etc. In the end, I kept hearing the lyric, “Trying to make some sense of it all/ But I can see that it makes no sense at all…” When I finally abandoned that route, I tried what Joon did with the 5×5 squares. I didn’t think of going to 3×3 until this morning. By the way, for our younger members, Paul Lynde was one of the wittiest and funniest people around.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        Just I’M STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU was what I wanted, but I would take either. That was mostly an Easter egg I didn’t think many people would notice.

        • Paul Coulter says:

          Thanks, Matt. There also happens to be GIT above ANNBDAVIS and ASSESs to her right, so she’s almost surrounded by those clowns and jokers. And Paul Lynde has jUMPSt to his left, whom many baseball managers consider enormous clowns.

        • Donimo says:

          DOOFI and FOOLS were the solve method for me. I *felt* like I was missing something, but couldn’t find it. Since the real message relies on not looking at the grid itself as 3×3, I don’t feel bad about it.

      • Makfan says:

        I rooted for people to pick the center square to hear his funny answer.

  5. Bill Katz says:

    I loved this puzzle – and solved it without finding the 25 9-block squares, as there is another path. The complete stanza is “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you”. Notice that DOOFI is to the left of ANN B DAVIS and FOOLS is to the right of PAUL LYNDE. That was all the confirmation I needed to submit (after thinking of the song, based on the center squares) Finding the 25 letters was just an added confirmation.

  6. Garrett says:

    That’s crazy! What an incredible way to encode a string like that. Matt, you should be working for the NSA. Funny thing is, the only fill that struck me as really out there was UDA and DOOFI.

    However, I have a nit to pick on how you get started down the solution path: Paul Lynde did not always sit in the middle square! Watch this clip. After the introduction, they have several clips of him and you’ll see him sitting middle-right in several of them.

    And so, I did not go there. Here’s what I saw: symmetrical (grid-wise) words which had double adjacent letters, broken only by one word, which is where I focused (and got nowhere):


    • Jim Schooler says:

      Regarding your suggestion of Matt working for the NSA, I was reminded of Matt’s initial email to us on Friday: “…due to reasons that only myself and the CIA will ever know, MGWCC will be published at 3PM ET on Saturday, July 22nd.” Matt Gaffney, Crytographer?

  7. pgw says:

    Dammit I was so close. Focused on the central 5×5 which as you note contains garbage. I did try the central squares of all nine 5x5s – ON VOMA UDO, naturally – but for some reason I did not think to go down to the 25 3x3s! This despite having noticed that the fill seemed constrained all over the place, moreso than would have seemed likely if all of the theme material were contained in Ann, Paul and the central 25 squares. (Also – nice touch putting doofi and fools to the right and left of the center square people.)

    Meanwhile, I submitted as a wild guess STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU (without “I’m” in front), which I knew had to be wrong because if that was the answer, Matt would have prompted us for a song title not a lyric.

    It’s frustrating to have basically understood all of the ideas in the meta, submitted a guess that was damn near the right answer, and yet failed.

    • Andy says:

      I would guess this is exactly the reason Matt included “I’M” in the meta phrase, rather than following Joon’s suggestion to trim it down. It eliminates fortuitous side-solving and ensures people must fully grok the meta.

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon. 201 right answers this week, about perfect for a Week 3 of 4.

  9. Lance says:

    I think my only nitpick with this puzzle is that “25” (other than suggesting an Adele album, and I was fully prepared to submit “Hello from the other side” as a Hail Mary if I needed it) is ambiguous between “divide this into 25 squares (of the 3×3 form suggested by the answers)” and “divide this into a 3×3 grid as suggested by the answers (each piece consisting of 25 squares)”. Joon writes that “andy first suggested nine 5×5 squares, with 25 squares in each “, and I did the same thing, so I wonder if that’s the more intuitive way to break up the grid when you’ve got “3×3” and “25” as your clues. (Eh, maybe not?)

    • Joe says:

      I think compounding the problem is that my mind wanted the grid to be broken up into 9 sections like in Hollywood Squares and Brady Bunch, so nine 5×5 sections made more sense to me than 25 3×3 sections. I never would have considered breaking the grid up that way since that’s not what the shows looked like. I was positive it had to involve nine 5×5 sections so it’d look like the panels from both shows.

  10. Crypdex says:

    I got really stuck for a while looking at the middle letters of 3×3 blocks of white squares.

    “I MOSH EU…” didn’t really start out promising though. Took a day or two but the penny eventually dropped. Thanks Matt, great meta!

  11. Jim S. says:

    Thrown off by OMG and GMO crossing in the middle, and BAH showing up backwards in AHAB. This all led me to think that the clues with quotes in them were supposed to lead to the meta answer. Alas, no dice. I did stumble upon the center square then when googling both names, but still couldn’t get past OMG/GMO crossing in the center. Great puzzle, though – wish it would have clicked for me.

  12. AmyBeth says:

    Not sure if I got credit since I left off “I’m” – I figured Resevoir Dogs came out 25 years ago … :-)

  13. Jim Schooler says:

    No wonder I couldn’t figure how to connect the lyrics in Adele’s album “25” and the preponderance of double letters in the grid!

    • Jim Schooler says:

      What a doofus!

    • Joe says:

      That was my first thought upon seeing the title too.

      The only Red Herring is that 25-across is Iran, which I parsed as “I ran” and considered the Flock of Seagulls song.

  14. Jason says:

    Minor quibble but shouldn’t 18-Across be clued as “She played Alice Nelson”? I thought the answer was ANNABELLE for the longest time because it fit.

    And I also couldn’t get away from Adele.

  15. Daniel Barkalow says:

    As soon as I identified that Ann B Davis and Paul Lynde were famous center squares, based entirely on the instructions and that fact, I started singing Stuck in the Middle With You, and went as far as looking up the lyrics to see if there was anything that would allow me to extract it. Then I tried looking at the grid and came up with only obviously wrong answers (the middle square of the whole grid is the only letter in the Crash Test Dummies song/lyric “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, in a forked-tongue fashion toward the center, it says SPAM). Three days later, I came up with the correct extraction and, when I got halfway through applying it, expanded 40A out loud (coincidentally, the entry I was looking at) when I realized that I’d guessed the right song.

    I assumed that not exactly using either the title or the chorus was a way of making it not so easy to guess, or at least make it possible to distinguish people who didn’t actually extract the answer as intended.

  16. jefe says:

    Thanks, Matt, for just taking “Stuck In The Middle With You”!

    After a weekend of nothing, I had the center square epiphany this morning (thanks Google!), but made nothing from the central 5×5, and was distracted by the symmetric central 3×3 (the A,G,O’s around that central M, which REALLY LOOKED SIGNIFICANT). Didn’t find any suitable Adele lyrics.

    Eventually googled “middle square lyrics” (“center square” just returned various concert venues, e.g. Madison Square Garden), saw something called “Smack Dab in the Middle”, and thought “Hey, what about ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’? Look, there’s clowns (DOOFI) to the left, and jokers (FOOLS) to the right, let’s Hail Mary!” Didn’t feel great about it since it didn’t explain the 25, plus we were looking for a song lyric as opposed to a song title. But this will make a great addition to my math class tomorrow! (In vain, I pulled the puzzle up for my high-school students and asked for any input since I thought the deadline was 12 and not 3pm. But hey, it turns out it was math-related after all!)

    Really cool construction!

    • AK37 says:

      Was “STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU” an accepted answer? I’d have a minor quibble with that (nothing personal to those who submitted that , or to the puzzle, which I generally enjoyed!), as that answer essentially negates the “25” title. It only uses 23 of the 25 3×3 squares and thus only 23 letters. Unless I’m missing another layer that ties in 25.

      • pgw says:

        I submitted just the song title without the “I’m,” and as far as I know I did not get credit (nor do I think I deserve it – you can’t really claim to have grokked the meta if you submitted this.)

        • Matt Gaffney says:

          Hmmm, no one who left the “I’m” off was supposed to have gotten credit. I might have accidentally credited a few people when I was verifying on my phone and forgot to scroll over all the way. Let me sort it out this evening when I get home.

  17. Amy L says:

    That song lyric kept going through my head once I got the Brady Bunch and Hollywood Squares connection, but I didn’t think it was famous! I never saw Reservoir Dogs. I don’t know any other parts of the song. I couldn’t figure out what the 25 stood for. I thought it would be really stupid to enter it. An amazing puzzle! But you could get there without really getting there.

  18. BarbaraK says:

    I’m amazed at how Matt comes up with these and makes them work so beautifully. This was a great puzzle.

  19. Tyrpmom says:

    When my nine 5×5 divisions didn’t pan out I went with “I Ran So Far Away”. 25A I ran and do, re, mi, la, la, ti running diagonally from top left to bottom right. So and fa (far) are away. (Far, a long, long way to run.) And, it was featured in the movie La La Land so the extra la was on purpose. Thanks for the hint.

    The real answer is pretty good too. (Really amazing – wish I’d found it.)

  20. Scarbo says:

    I first tried this angle:
    Matt was late with this puzzle, giving us an explanation in a whimsical email that I suspected was part of the meta. As for the ’25’, looking at 25-A and its counterpart you get “I RAN LATE”. I struggled with this, and then trying to make patterns out of the strange diagonal symmetry in the middle, and abandoned it.

    After a mental reset, finally got on the right path after noticing the DAVIS/LYNDE center-square connection, but stupidly submitted the answer without “I’M” and didn’t get credit it seems (well, at least I’m not the only one!)

  21. This puzzle turned me into a conspiracy theorist I guess.

    First… the title 25. Well, 25A is IRAN and… it has RAN… there are 3 other clues that have some of Run/Ran in them –
    57. “Runaway” singer Shannon – DEL
    59. Running behind – LATE
    4. Errand runner – GOFER

    If you unscramble DEL, LATE, GOFER you get ADELE !!! And she has album titled “25” … but you also get FORGET…. so is this a way of saying “Forget Adele, you are on the wrong track….?” ??????

    The conspiracy gets deeper, because now I realize that the answer should have been published on the 25th – but it will really be the 26th…. So, is that the meaning of the title 25 – what if I look instead at 26 ???

    26D is NAVI– which unscrambles to VAIN — YES!! It must be “You’re So Vain” – that clearly is the first lyric that pops to mind.

    Combine this with me going back to the email from Matt saying the CIA would know the reason the email didn’t come – and he had in caps – COMPLETE LIAR — well, LIAR is also an anagram for RIAL which is used in the clue for 25A —

    So I’m convinced that Forget Adele is meant to be there and that Vain – You’re So Vain is the answer…

    I’m tortured about this all weekend – but not sure enough in my conspiracy theory to submit an answer. Ha ha ha ha ha –

    I love these puzzles so much I can’t even express the right words!!! Thank you Matt and this community !!! SUCH GOOD FUN !!!!

  22. Amanda says:

    Never ever would have gotten this. I got stuck on Y being the 25th letter of the alphabet, then seeing the Wye Oak. There was a much higher than normal number of letters in the grid that were part of acronyms (SVU, OMG, IV, US, etc.) and several homophones for letters (TEE, SEE, CUE). I couldn’t get past that train of thought.

Comments are closed.